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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 March 2007, 10:43 GMT
Steve Bell - a life in cartoons...
Steve Bell © Guardian
Award-winning cartoonist Steve Bell has been drawing political cartoons for The Guardian for the last 25 years.

During that time he has created many memorable images of politicians including John Major as a grey superhero wearing Y-fronts, Margaret Thatcher as a mad woman, and Tony Blair with his flashing eyeball.

Other iconic Bell caricatures include John Prescott as a bulldog and US President George Bush as a chimpanzee.

Bell's cartoons have always tackled controversial and difficult subjects, and the current war in Iraq continues to provide plenty of ammunition for the comic's scathing pen.

But how did Steve Bell's life in cartoons get started and where do the roots of his incredible talent lie?

Early years

Adoration of the Majori © Steve Bell
Adoration of the Majori © Steve Bell

Steve Bell was born in 1951 in London, and raised in Slough in South East England.

He moved to North Yorkshire in 1968, where he studied Fine Art at Teesside College of Art, before moving to Leeds University from which he graduated in 1974 with a BA in Fine Art.

Bell then took a teaching certificate at Exeter University, and worked briefly as an art teacher in Birmingham, later describing the experience as "hell on earth".

After his brief flirtation with teaching, he left education to follow a freelance career as a cartoonist.

His political cartoons were featured in a variety of publications including Whoopee, Cheeky, Jackpot, New Society, the Leveller, NME, Time Out, City Limits, New Statesman, Private Eye, and Punch.

Amongst his first comic strips was Maggie's Farm which was published in Time Out magazine.

During these early days Bell was already getting under the skin of the establishment - the Maggie's Farm cartoons were condemned in the House of Lords as "an almost obscene series of caricatures".

In the nation's eye

Steppin out on the third way legged race © Steve Bell
Steppin out on the third way legged race

Bell's seminal cartoons drew interest from The Guardian, and he joined the paper on a month's trial in summer 1981, developing a series of 24 strip cartoons for them.

So impressed was The Guardian that Steve was offered a permanent job.

His first If¿ cartoon strip appeared in November 1981 and has proved to be hugely successful ever since.

Steve's arrival at The Guardian was perfectly timed to capture key events in 1982 - the Falklands War started soon after he joined the paper and he was able to capture the controversy surrounding the war with a caricaturist's eye.

These cartoons also marked an early appearance of Commander Jack Middletar and Able Seaman Reg Kipling, in the armoured punt HMS Incredible, one of Bell's most memorable images.

This was accompanied by early drawings of Bell's famous Penguin, which has become a recurrent motif in his work down the years.

Memorable images

Steve Bell © Guardian
2005: Political Cartoonist of the Year, Cartoon Trust Awards
2003: Cartoonist of the Year, British Press Awards
1999: Cartoon Arts Trust Political Cartoonist of the Year
1998: Cartoon Arts Trust Strip Cartoonist of the Year
1997: Cartoon Arts Trust Political Cartoonist of The Year
1997: Cartoon Arts Trust Strip Cartoonist of the Year
Macallan Malt Whisky Best Cartoons of the 1997 Election (two categories)
1996: University of Sussex Honorary Doctor of Letters
1996: Cartoon Arts Trust Strip Cartoonist of the Year
1995: Cartoon Arts Trust Political Cartoonist of The Year
1994: University of Teesside Honorary Master of Letters
1993: Cartoonist of The Year, What The Papers Say Awards
1993: XXI Premio 'Satira Politica' (Grafica estera) Forte Dei Marmi, Italy
1985: Cartoonists' Club Humorous Strip of The Year
1984: Cartoonists' Club Humorous Strip of The Year

The following decades provided plenty of fuel for Steve Bell's caustic wit.

He depicted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a psychotic woman, "a swivel-eyed heroine".

During the 1990s Bell captured the essence of Prime Minister John Major, depicting him as a useless, superhero wearing his Aertex underpants outside his trousers.

When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, Bell openly admits that it took while to 'get him', but a trip to a Labour Party conference provided a revelatory moment.

Bell spotted a strange psychotic glint in one of the Prime Minister's eyes, redolent of Margaret Thatcher - and the 'Blair eye' became one of the cartoonist's motifs.

Capturing politics on paper

Steve Bell's work has published a large number of books of his work and has won numerous awards.

In 1993 he was the What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year and also scooped the Political Cartoon Society Cartoon of the Year Award in 2001, the Cartoonist of the Year in 2005, and the British Press Awards Cartoonist of the Year in 2002.

Steve has also won the Cartoon Arts Trust Award Best Strip cartoonist and/or Best Political Cartoonist eight times.

As well his political caricatures, other popular Bell cartoon characters include the old hack Harry Hardnose, Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the French Monsieur L'Artiste, who some say is a caricature of Bell.

Steve Bell remains one of Britain's most searing political cartoonists and continues to sharpen his political pencil in The Guardian and his many publications.

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